The Officer Breaks The Rules
Captain Jeremy Phillips believes in doing his duty…both as a son and as a friend. This means that he should obey the “friend code” and stay away from his best friend’s little sister. Too bad Madison O’Shay doesn’t believe in his code and is ready to break all the rules.
As a Navy nurse, Madison is finally stationed next to the man she’s been dreaming about for years. And she’s ready to launch a full-scale attack to show this thoughtful, handsome Marine that they belong together.
Jeremy Phillips settled the protectors over his ears, adjusted his glasses more comfortably on the bridge of his nose, and took a relaxed stance. Then, at the signal, he picked up his Beretta, clicked off the safety, and fired fifteen rounds. As the smell of black powder and CPL agent filled his nostrils, he checked his gun, set the safety, then slapped a hand over the switch to draw the paper target forward.
His best friend, and today’s shooting partner, Timothy O’Shay ducked his head around the divider and mouthed something.
“What?” Jeremy yelled back.
Tim cocked one eyebrow and tapped a finger to his ear, pointing out the obvious.
Oh. Shit. Right. Jeremy took the protectors off and set them on the ledge in front of him, next to his Beretta. “What?”
“I asked how long you were going to waste bullets when your head’s not in the game.”
Jeremy gave him a withering look. “I’m not wasting bullets.”
Tim’s answer was a glance between the two targets—his and Jeremy’s—now only a few feet away. Jeremy took a look also.
Tim’s dummy showed two tight clusters of bullet holes, so close together they’d ripped large chunks from the paper. Several in the head, the other in the chest. Not a stray hole at all.
His dummy, by comparison, looked like a constellation of wrongness. Half the bullets sprayed over the outline’s shoulders, the other half catching the figure in the arm or some other undesirable area.
“You’ll have to remind me how you shot expert at the last firearms qual,” Tim said casually as he stripped the target down and replaced it with a fresh one.
“Just having an off day.” When Tim said nothing, Jeremy glanced over his shoulder. His friend smirked and shook his head. “Bite me, O’Shay.”
“You know what Dwayne would say to that.” Tim straightened his shoulders in an effort to look taller. “If you were a female, I just might take you up on that one,” he said with an exaggerated drawl.
Though he tried to fight it, Jeremy cracked a smile. Their deployed friend, Dwayne Robertson, always did let his natural drawl thicken up to an almost obscene level when he was telling a joke. Tim nailed it perfectly. Jeremy clipped on his own fresh target and sent it back. “Yeah, yeah. When’s that big lug coming home, anyway?”
“He just left not that long ago. For all we know, he might get delayed past the original seven. Stuff’s shifting over there. Makes for interesting deployments.” As he thumbed the last few bullets into his clip, he pushed it in and locked it. “Seriously, what’s going on? You’ve shot for shit all day, and I know you could do better than this blindfolded. What’s up?”
Because Tim was holding a loaded weapon, now was absolutely not the time for the truth. So instead he lifted a shoulder and dismissed his friend’s concern. “If marriage is gonna turn you into some walking therapy session, I’m not so sure we can be friends anymore.”
Tim just laughed and flipped the switch to send his target flying back. “It’s not the prison sentence you make it out to be.”
“No, really. I guess it could be if you were unhappy. But when you’ve got the right partner, it works out. Pretty damn well, I think.” A self-satisfied smile crossed Tim’s face as he watched his target settle into place. But the preoccupied look in his eye behind his protective glasses said he wasn’t actually seeing the target at all. He was thinking about Skye, his wife.
Jeremy gave a grunt and rolled his shoulders. Tim might be blissful in love and all that, but it wasn’t for everyone. At least, not for him. Not right now. He had shit to do before he thought about settling down. And his mind wasn’t in the dating game. Not when he was too hung up on one irritating, annoying, always-in-the-way female who made his teeth grind and his blood fire.
In all the right ways… and wrong ones.
He waited for his own target to settle before readjusting the mufflers over his ears and reloading his weapon. Deep breath in, then back out. This time he wasn’t going to rush it. Wasn’t going to just punch holes through the paper for the satisfaction of the hit. Conciseness, precision, accuracy.
He sighted the target, then took a calm breath in. Waited until his heartbeats slowed enough to time the trigger squeeze between them. And on a slow breath out, he fired one shot.
And his brain exploded in color and sound, light and movement. Voices. Action. Motivation and intrigue.
Before he even glanced at the target to check his shot, Jeremy clicked on the safety, set the gun down, and started patting his pockets for a pen. Where the hell did he put it? Aggravated, he turned in a tight circle around his cubicle before spotting his pen on the ground by the bag he used for his ammo. He sifted through the bag but came up with no paper. Terrified he was about to lose the scene playing out in his mind, he pushed up the sleeve of his Henley and started to write across the underside of his arm, from biceps to elbow to wrist. Black ink smudged, but he kept going, knowing he’d have an interesting time deciphering it later but not caring in the moment. He had to get the idea down or he’d lose it.
Writer’s block was a bitch in heat. And he wasn’t about to let the perfect solution to the corner he’d written himself into last week slip through his fingers because of a lack of paper.
Distantly, he realized he no longer heard the muffled pops of Tim’s gun. Quickly, before his friend could realize what he was doing, he jotted the last few words down across the inside of his wrist and pulled his shirt down.
“Hey, what stopped you?” When Tim glanced around the divide and saw Jeremy squatting on the floor, his brows rose in question. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Standing, stuffing the pen back in his pocket, he shrugged. “Decided you were right. My head’s not in the game. No point in wasting bullets.”
“I was planning to go a few more, if you don’t mind waiting.”
Jeremy smiled, feeling more relaxed now than he had in a week. “Sure, maybe I’ll go one more round.” He waited until Tim was settled, then lined up his own fourteen remaining shots. With a more relaxed breathing rhythm, and a looser stance, he fired until he came up empty. And when he recalled his paper target this time, he couldn’t hold back the satisfied smirk.
Fourteen head shots, one through the chest—the chest shot being his first before he’d started jotting notes. Not a single stray in the bunch. “Not bad,” he mumbled to himself.
Then everything in his brain stalled as he caught a whiff of something feminine, something that climbed over the scent of black powder and CLR and made its presence known. A scent he knew too damn well.
“Not bad at all.”
And with that light, airy voice from over his shoulder, his mood dipped dangerously low once more.
* * * * *
“Mad, hey.” Tim leaned over to give her a hug. Madison hugged back tightly.
“Thanks for letting me know you were out here.” She hefted her bag from over her shoulder, taking the stall on the other side of Jeremy. “Empty for a Saturday.”
“It’s early yet. Lazy people are still in bed.” Tim peeked around her arm. “What’d you bring?”
She held up her .22, brand new and ready to be tested.
“Ah. See you broke out the Desert Eagle for this one,” he said solemnly, then laughed when she punched him in the arm. Her brother’s face twisted in comedic dismay. “Well, hell, Mad. That’s a girl gun.”
“I am a girl, you ass.” She kicked at his feet and he shuffled back, laughing all the way to his stall. “And this little sucker fits in almost any purse,” she added, then felt stupid for justifying the completely frivolous purchase of the small handgun. It really was a girly gun. But it was so cute…
Not able to avoid it any longer, she glanced at Jeremy’s face for the first time since she got to the range.
Thunderclouds would have been a friendlier welcome. His face was a mask of annoyance and frustration. Well, that made two of them. Though God only knew what he was so frustrated about. If he thought she was stalking him, he had a more self-inflated ego than she thought.
But either way, she’d play it cool. “Morning Jeremy,” she said, keeping her voice light and casual.
“Morning.” His own voice was tense. With stiff motions, he turned back to his target to set up a fresh paper outline.
She watched him for just a moment, taking in the rigid line of his spine, the hard set of his shoulders. The way his head looked so tightly screwed to his neck he might as well have been in a brace.
She’d been the one to initiate their kiss months ago. She’d been the one to keep trying, keep showing him there was nothing wrong with them trying each other out for size. And he was the one who’d retreated. And she knew it was her fault he’d lost that loose gait, that easy stance, that distant, dreamy set to his eyes he’d had when she walked up.
Well, not her fault. Not quite. It wasn’t like she walked up and punched him or something.
Now that she thought about it, the idea had merit…
No. Madison snapped her ear protectors on and slipped on the glasses before loading up. She wasn’t going to do anything to tick him off or give him ammo—pun intended—to ignore her further. He was doing a damn fine job of it all on his own.
Lining up her shot, she took the breath she knew she needed to calm her down, then fired until she ran empty.
Not her best, but she’d never been the marksman her brother was. Every Marine was a rifleman first. She was more of a healer, really. Though it didn’t hurt to kick a little ass on occasion. Which made her job as a Navy nurse a near perfect fit for her.
She ejected the clip and peeked around the corner of the partition to see Jeremy packing up his things.
He didn’t glance up. “Yeah. I have stuff to get done today.”
It was a lie, she knew that much. He probably would have stayed another hour or two if she’d not shown up. But she refused to feel any guilt about it. That was his choice. All of it—the entire situation—was his choice. There was one very simple solution, and he refused to take it.
“Have a good day, then. Make sure to tell Tim bye before you leave.” From the sounds of it, Tim had just started a new round and would be a minute.
“Right. Got it.” Hefting his bag over one shoulder, he straightened and finally looked her in the eye.
Jeremy sucked at hiding anything from her. He might just seem sullen or closed off to her brother and Dwayne, his two best friends. But men weren’t the most perceptive, and Madison could always see the little wounds he hid with his quiet nature. They called to the healer in her, even as she wanted to strangle him for being so damn stubborn about letting her inside his emotional walls.
“Jeremy,” she started, not sure where to take it. Not that she had the chance.
He shook his head once. “Not now, Mad.” And he turned on his heel and pushed through the door leading to the lobby.
Not now. That was a first. Normally he said No. Never. Was it a slip of the tongue? Or a hint there was hope?
“Where’d Jeremy go?”
Madison snapped from her zoned-out stare at the door and looked at her brother. He wore the confused puppy face she always teased him about when they were kids.
“Said he had things to do. Guess he forgot to say good-bye,” she said lightly.
“Oh. Huh.” Tim shrugged then flipped the switch, waiting for his target to zoom in.
Men, she thought with affectionate irritation. Undercurrents were lost on them. To fill the silence, she asked, “How’s Veronica settling in?” Veronica Gibson, Skye’s cousin, had moved into the area a month ago from… well, she wasn’t entirely sure where she originated. She was currently taking up residence in her brother’s extra bedroom.
“Good. Great, actually.” Tim rubbed the back of his neck. “She and Skye are constantly talking or hanging out. She’s coming out of her shell more now, thank God. You should come by later, have lunch. They both have the afternoon off.”
“You just want me to drag Veronica away so you have your wife and your house to yourself,” she joked. And when a flush crept up his neck, she laughed.
It did funny things to her heart to see her brother find the woman he loved more than anything. And what an unlikely combination. But love didn’t always ask for opinions, as Madison clearly learned the hard way. Otherwise she wouldn’t have fallen for the one guy determined never to be with her.
Dammit, Jeremy. Why are you so stubborn?
* * * * *
“Dammit, son. Why are you so stubborn?”
Jeremy sighed and let his head hit the back of the couch. “Sir, I—”
“No. You listen to me, Marine.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes, though it was only for his own benefit, given his father was across the country at the moment and his phone didn’t have a “smartass” alert system.
“You’ve put ten good years into the Corps. And you want to piss it away now?”
“No, sir. I don’t think anything about my time in the Corps is wasted if I put it to good use in the civilian sector. From my understanding, a military background on a resume can—”
His father huffed out a breath. “Don’t give me any of that wishy-washy civilian crap.”
Right. Anything not Marine-related was absolute crap. How could Jeremy possibly have forgotten?
“You’ve got ten more years, then you can retire. Pick up pension, become a contractor. Do consulting work. Damn good living.”
Your living, Dad. Your choice.
Jeremy made a non-committal noise.
“I know I’m repeating myself.” His father sighed. “And I’d prefer not to have this conversation over again myself. But I’m saying this because I believe it’s the best for you. Stay the course. Stick to the plan. I didn’t raise you to be a quitter.”
Why, oh God, why had Jeremy even thought that hinting about wanting to get out when his contract was up was a good idea? It always led to this. An old-fashioned standoff at the OK Corral.
Because you needed a distraction, and even a lecture from Dad is better than sitting around thinking about… her.
If he hadn’t known that his father’s pushing came from a place of caring, if he didn’t respect his father, it would have been so much easier to simply hang up and not deal with it. But Jeremy waited until his father’s bluster wore down, then he told his dad he’d call again next weekend. Reluctantly, his father hung up, apparently satisfied that at least Jeremy wasn’t going to run out and sign his separation papers first thing Monday morning.
No. He wouldn’t do that. Though the thought occurred to him more and more every week that he was done, through, completely finished with the Corps. But the actual act of leaving? Jeremy wasn’t an idiot. That would never happen. Not to mention, he had no clue what the hell he would do after ten years in the Marines. Maybe that was crazy, even contemplating leaving the Corps without a settled plan. But he couldn’t help the direction of his thoughts.
As if on cue, his mind drifted back to Madison. Watching her—though she wouldn’t have realized he was—at the gun range today had sparked a heavy, undeniable pressure in his chest. There was something ridiculously sexual about watching slim, delicate fingers that he knew were soft and smooth load a gun without hesitation, take aim, and fire like it was all business.
And didn’t that say something about how far gone he was, if watching her shoot turned him on? The way he’d acted around her the last time they’d been alone, he was shocked she didn’t use him for target practice.
He forced his mind back to the current clusterfuck of problems… life after the Marines. If there was such a thing. His father would disagree. And at the core of it, Jeremy knew defying his father’s life plan for him just wasn’t going to happen.
Jeremy pushed off the couch and wandered to his computer desk a mere fifteen feet away. That was the beauty of a small apartment… nothing was far out of reach. He sucked in a breath and prayed as he lifted the sleeve of his left arm, then breathed out with relief when he found none of the ink on his arm had smeared beyond recognition. Opening up a new Word document, he typed furiously, doing his best to make out the notes he had scribbled on his arm so quickly at the firing range.
A brand new villain to add to the mix. A new set of problems for his characters. Challenges to overcome. The core of his book started to reformulate and reassemble in his mind, like gears locking into place and cranking the machine to life.
Finally spent, he sat back and stared at the cursor blinking on the screen. Why the hell couldn’t he do this after he got out? Write. At least part-time.
It’s a pansy-ass excuse for a career.
Jeremy blew out a breath and rolled his chair over to the miniature kitchen area—which the landlord had sworn was a “kitchenette,” though Jeremy was sure that was just to make it sound less like a hole in the wall—to grab a bottle of water, shutting the fridge door again before he could be reminded there was likely something—or several somethings—in there that should have been tossed out who knows how long ago. Maybe if he gave it another week they’d grow legs and walk themselves out.
If he could just finish the damn manuscript, maybe send it out to a few places, that would give him an idea about whether his efforts were even worth it. Nobody had to know, he rationalized, taking a drink to wash away the dry mouth that took over every time he thought about letting someone read his work.
His eyes swung back to his cell phone, his father’s words still echoing in his ears. Could he actually walk away? Sad that a man in his thirties just couldn’t answer that question for himself. But his father’s respect meant more to him than he could explain.
He had a while yet. If nothing looked promising, he could sign for another three years. It wouldn’t kill him.
What might kill him, though, was keeping his hands off his best friend’s little sister for as long as they were both stationed together.
* * * * *
Madison knocked once then pushed the front door open. The knock was just a polite show of respect, now that Tim wasn’t alone in the home. His wife, Skye, didn’t care if she came and went as she pleased. But Veronica was still a little skittish, and Madison tried her best not to scare the poor girl.
“Skye? Veronica?” Madison dropped her bag on the entry table and kicked off her shoes, letting them land next to the pile of Skye’s sandals by the door. “Anyone here?”
Skye’s voice drifted from the living room. “In here!”
Madison turned the corner to see Skye and Veronica with their heads bent over what looked like an old issue of some women’s magazine. “What’s up? Taking one of those ‘Is he hot for you?’ quizzes?”
Skye laughed, and to Madison’s surprise, Veronica smiled as well. The girl was quiet, reserved in a way Madison could never identify with. But slowly, as the second month closed on her visit with her cousin Skye, the girl came out of her shell a little more. Encouraged, Madison sat on the other side of Veronica and peered over her shoulder.
But before she could see what they were looking at, Skye smoothly closed the magazine and slid it to the coffee table. “Just passing time. Tim went into the office for a while after the range, and we both have the day off so we’re doing the girl-time thing.”
Curious, but not willing to pry, Madison let the idea of asking about the magazine go. She shifted back until she was propped against the arm of the couch. “Cool. What’s on the agenda?”
“You have a full day off?” Veronica asked.
“Today and tomorrow. I actually have a weekend off, on a weekend.”
Skye gave a shocked face. “Imagine that!”
Her work hours were the definition of awkward, being a nurse at the naval hospital on base. But she loved the job too much to ever care. Midnight, four in the morning, high noon… if she was at work, it was a good day—most of the time. But still, everyone needed a break.
“How’s the restaurant thing coming along, Veronica?”
The woman ducked her head but forced it back up and gave her a smile. “It’s good. I’m lucky Skye gave me the serving job.”
“No luck at all. You’re a natural. Very detail-oriented, quick, responsible.” Skye smiled reassuringly. “I didn’t give it to you; you earned it.”
There was a story there, Madison mused. She’d known it since the day Veronica was introduced to the group. But as Skye told them all, it wasn’t their place to pry into people’s lives.
She heard the faint rumble of her brother’s engine, the whine of the garage door being lifted, and she smiled.
“I actually came over to see if Veronica wanted to get some lunch with me,” she said, and watched the other woman’s eyes light up. Veronica was good for the ego, that much was for sure. She relished any chance to hang out or be invited somewhere.
“Yes!” She jumped up, then sat back down quickly. “Wait. I mean, Skye and I were going to hang out this afternoon. So maybe—”
She stopped as the door opened and Tim walked in, surveying the trio of females.
“It’s like an Oprah book club in here.”
Madison flipped him the bird. “Oprah this. I was just asking Veronica to lunch with me,” Madison said, then gave her brother an evil glance. “But I could always invite Skye as well…”
“No, no.” Tim dropped his bag and headed to the kitchen. “Thanks a lot anyway, squirt. But you two have fun. I’ll keep Skye company.”
“I’ll just bet you will,” Madison murmured with a smile.
Veronica looked less convinced, glancing between her and Skye. “Are you sure?”
Skye smiled and gave her cousin a friendly shove. “Yes, absolutely. Go! Have fun. Get something sinfully delicious for dessert. Enjoy the day off.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Madison quipped, then bent down to give her sister-in-law a kiss on the cheek before grabbing Veronica’s hand and dragging her toward the front door.
As Veronica climbed in the passenger seat of Madison’s car, she bit her lip. “I hate the thought of leaving Skye behind.”
“Left behind, but not left alone,” Madison said as she backed out of the driveway. “Trust me, Tim will keep her busy.”
“Oh.” Veronica’s eyes widened almost comically. “Oh.”
“Uh huh.” Enjoying the woman’s naïveté, Madison winked. “We should all be so lucky to score a nooner.”
Madison laughed. “We have so much to talk about, you and I.”
Praise for The Officer Breaks the Rules
“Loved the book. Fell in love with the characters from the first book in the series and continued to fall in love with them in this book. Cannot wait for the next book in the series.”
“A solid four wine glass toast and I hope you lovely ladies enjoy this humorous little tale of love, lust, and a stubborn man who’s trying to avoid an even more stubborn woman, or risk being shot by his best friend as consequence of giving in to temptation in scrubs!”